Chief Undergraduate Advisor for Geology & Earth Systems, UMass Amherst
Mark Leckie, Department of Geosciences
The science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce is crucial to the U.S. health and economy, yet retention rates in STEM fields are poor, and the Geoscience community in particular is faced with a looming workforce shortage. Moreover, the Geoscience community continues to lack the diversity of the population at large. The STEM Student Experiences Aboard Ships (STEMSEAS) project was a 1-year proof-of-concept initiative aimed at addressing three priorities: (1) increasing the number and diversity of students pursuing degrees and careers in geosciences; (2) preparing students for all possible career trajectories in the geosciences; and, (3) contributing to the evidence base for effective student engagement, learning and retention in STEM. The STEMSEAS project is achieving these goals by taking advantage of unused berthing capacity available through the federally funded research vessel network, the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), as ships transit between U.S. ports in preparation for their next scientific expedition. These short (~6-10 days) transits offer a mobile classroom setting where undergraduate non-STEM, undecided-STEM, and geoscience majors can be exposed to geoscience professional practice and career exploration. By partnering with UNOLS and campus "champions" at universities, including minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), the project is sending diverse cohorts of students to sea with a small team of geoscience faculty and mentors. Three cohorts (~10 undergraduate students each) were recruited for a pilot study during the summer of 2016 to document both the logistical feasibility and potential impact of the STEMSEAS model. While at sea, the students engaged in a variety of hands-on activities that incorporate geoscience content, lab exercises, data collection/analysis, career exploration, and discussion/reflection. Upon completion of the transits, each participant was required to complete a post-transit project, which they present back at their home institution, write a short article about their experiences, and participate in post-transit teleconferences with other cohort members.
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